Do you remember those dreaded five-page essays in high school English? If you were anything like me, you’d widen your page margins and switch from the default Times New Roman font to Arial because Arial is just a little bit bigger. Or, if typing wasn’t required, your handwriting would suddenly go from tiny scratches to giant bubble letters. Anything to fill those five pages as quickly as possible, with the least amount of writing, right?
Nearly all English teachers are (and were) hip to these tricks. In fact, my college professors enforced strict rules concerning margins, font styles, and line spacing. One particularly ornery professor actually measured margins with a wooden ruler before accepting assignments. Cranky!
Unfortunately, these academic conventions can have a negative effect on our writing later in life. Many employees concentrate on creating long content, rather than good content, because they want to impress the boss with a “big” report or article.
While there are probably a few bosses out there who still believe that bigger is better, page length and word count are not the endgame of business writing. In fact, business-related content should convey the message as effectively and efficiently as possible. And as mentioned in my previous parking lot post, minimalist communication has the potential to maximize results.
Here are a few tips to avoid wordiness:
- When appropriate, use an active voice instead of a passive voice:
- Passive voice: The car was dented by a meteorite.
- Active voice: A meteorite dented the car.
- Cut unnecessary prepositions (e.g., of) and determiners (e.g., the):
- Original: The professor suggested that the origin of the artwork was unknown.
- Edit: The professor suggested that the artwork’s origin was unknown.
- Avoid excessive -ly adverbs with strong adjectives (e.g., awful):
- Original: The broccoli soup tasted really awful.
- Edit: The broccoli soup tasted awful.
Of course, if you are writing a term paper, you may want to ignore these tips completely.
Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in general business content, marketing, blogs, web copy, and instructional material.